Tag Archives: Victoria

A Bushfire A.B.C

I wasn’t going to write a bushfire post this year [2019] because I thought there was no need, not with the devastating fires in NSW and QLD to focus everyone’s thoughts. But I’ve just been on Twitter and seen some of the misconceptions about bushfires.

So…here are some basics:

Fire needs just two things to burn: fuel and oxygen. However the size of that fire depends on many things:

  • Dry fuel – makes a fire burn harder and faster. Fuel is made of up dry grass, leaves, small twigs and fallen branches that build up on the ground over time.
  • Low humidity – i.e. moisture in the air and soil – makes a fire burn harder and faster.
  • Strong winds – provide the oxygen to make a fire burn harder and faster. They also transport embers ahead of the main fire.
  • Embers – land on dry fuel and start spot fires.
  • Spot fires act like pre-ignition for the main fire.

So far, these conditions could apply to any fire, in any country of the world. In Australia though, things are a little different. As well as all of the above, we also have to contend with native vegetation that evolved with fire. Some native plants developed ways to keep the species going after a fire. In fact, the seeds of many of our natives need fire to germinate.

In a nutshell, most Australian natives evolved to burn. This includes gum trees [eucalypts].

  • Gum leaves contain eucalyptus oils.
  • When these oils heat up enough, they turn into a volatile gas.
  • Add a spark and this gas goes ‘boom’. It’s an accelerant – like throwing petrol onto a camp fire.
  • Lightning strikes from ‘dry storms’ provide the spark that starts hundreds of fires every year.

So let’s look at a couple of what-ifs. Let’s say a lightning strike starts a fire. If the humidity is high and the fuel is wet – e.g. winter – the fire doesn’t go very far.

But this is what happens in summer:

  • Lightning [or human stupidity via an angle grinder creating a spark, an over-heated car starting to burn, a camp-fire left unattended, blah blah blah] starts a fire in grassland.
  • The grass fire spreads into scrub land.
  • The scrub land fire spreads into native forest.
  • The scrub at the base of the gum trees burns hotter and hotter.
  • The eucalyptus oil in the gum leaves heats up.
  • The volatile oil in the gum leaves becomes a gas and suddenly the whole tree is on fire.
  • As more and more trees burn, and the wind pushes the embers and superheated air ahead of it, the conditions for a ‘crown fire’ emerge.

A crown fire is when the fire jumps from tree top to tree top. This is a fire that nothing can stop – no amount of water bombers, no amount of fire fighters, no amount of chemical retardants. In fact, water bombers can’t even get near this kind of fire because it creates its own weather, crazy weather that makes flying virtually impossible.

In 2009, south eastern Australia was in the grip of the Millenium drought and an El Nino weather event. For those who don’t know, during an El Nino period, south eastern Australia goes through an extended ‘dry’ spell with much less rain than normal.

In February 2009, an extended heatwave of 40+ degree temperatures, extremely low humidity, high fuel loads and a ferocious north wind [bringing even more heat from the Centre] combined to create Black Saturday, the worst bushfire event in modern Australian history. 173 people died.

Now, ten short years later, NSW is likely to have another perfect storm of fire conditions…tomorrow…at the very beginning of summer…with the worst of the fire season still to come.

I’ll be honest, I’m scared. Conditions here in Victoria are cool and wet, for now, but the worst is yet to come. How will Warrandyte fare once the grass browns off and the damp fuel load turns into dry kindling? And even if we squeak through this fire season, what about next year and the one after that?

Some years ago I attend a Climate Change rally in Melbourne, and one of the speakers [from the CFA*] said something I’ll never forget. He said words to the effect that there are no climate change deniers at the end of a fire hose.

Climate Change is not causing bushfires, it’s making them bigger and more frequent. Exactly as the climate scientists predict.

Climate Change is also extending the length of the fire season. When I was a kid, January and February were the bad months. In years to come, fire season may extend from the beginning of Spring [September] through to the end of Autumn [May].

Three people have died in NSW already. How many more have to die before we stop ‘praying’ and start doing something useful?

I hope with all my heart that the legacy of Black Saturday means that Victorians remember how helpless we all felt, and act accordingly. We’ve been there. We know. The only thing we can control, even a little, is the fuel load. Reducing the fuel load won’t stop a fire from starting, and it won’t stop a fire from spreading, but it may reduce the severity of that fire by stopping it from becoming a crown fire. Harm reduction. The life it saves could be your own.

And Warrandyte? If you haven’t cleared your block yet, what the effing hell are you waiting for? NSW and QLD may be the canaries in the coal mine this year, but make no mistake, we’re in that bloody coal mine too.

To EllaD and the GO in Taylors Arms – stay safe.

Meeks

*CFA – Country Fire Authority, the volunteer fire fighting organisation in Victoria.

 

 


How to save $$ in Victoria [Australia]

This post is for Victorians on a tight budget – i.e. people on Newstart, the Age Pension, Disability Pension or young people working in the GIG economy – and concerns energy bills such as gas and electricity.

The first, critical step to saving on your energy bills is to understand that utility companies bank on us being too busy to go out and actively look for better deals. The new initiative by the Victorian government only means that energy retailers have to inform you of their best deals. But those best deals could still be very expensive when compared to the rest of the marketplace.

To give you an example, I changed my gas supplier about a year and a half ago. At the time, my new gas supplier offered the best deal according to the Victorian government’s own comparison website:

https://compare.energy.vic.gov.au

This morning, when I did a fresh comparison, my existing gas supplier was close to the bottom of the list, and their best deal was over $400 more expensive [per year] than the new ‘best deal’. As a result, I got on the phone [contact details supplied by the government website], made sure the quote was still accurate and…signed up:

When AGL’s best is no longer the best, I’ll move my gas account again.

Gamers would recognize this as ‘churn’. The term refers to how gamers move from one ISP to another to get the best deal. I don’t ‘churn’ often, but since I became an age pensioner, I’ve learned that loyalty simply doesn’t pay. These days I ‘churn’ my gas, electricity and comms suppliers on a regular basis.

So what’s involved in comparing prices?

Once you land on the government’s comparison website, you’ll be asked a series of questions about how you use your gas [or electricity]. It pays to make your answers as accurate as possible so dig out your most recent bill and keep it handy. After you’ve completed all the relevant questions, the website will do some kind of general comparison and present you with a list of the best matches for your circumstances.

Gas pricing is a mess with about five different rates in both the ‘peak’ and ‘off peak’ categories, but don’t let it scare you. One easy thing to compare is the daily supply charge. Essentially this is the amount you pay for the privilege of having a gas connection. In other words, even if you don’t turn the gas on at all, you’ll still be charged that daily supply charge.

All retailers charge you for supply, but the amount varies. AGL’s daily supply charge is 62 cents. Another retailer I looked at [not one of the most expensive ones] was charging 83 cents. Assuming the rates don’t change for 365 days, that’s $226 vs $303 per year [or a saving of $77 per year].

When the cost of living means you have to think twice about buying that latte, a saving of $77 is nothing to be sneezed at. And when you add that small saving to the actual cost of using the energy, the savings really do add up.

So please, bookmark that government comparison website and check it out, at least once a year. Doing your homework and making a change will probably take an hour, all up, but the way I see it, I’ve just earned over $400 for that hour. Not a bad hourly rate, don’t you think?

And finally a word about keeping all your eggs in one basket. Energy retailers that supply both gas and electricity will try to convince you to move both utilities to them. Doing so may be more convenient. It may also be cheaper, sometimes. But…a cheap gas price does not automatically mean the electricity price will be the best available price as well.

Remember, the best price a retailer offers is not necessarily the best price from all retailers. Compare…and save.

cheers

Meeks

 

 

 

 


Devil in the Wind – Black Saturday

I’m not a poetry person, at least not normally, but I’m sitting here crying as I read this poem by Frank Prem. It’s about the Black Saturday fires that claimed 173 lives here in Victoria. 

I was at home in Warrandyte that day. I’d sent the Offspring away, but I was at home with Dad and the animals because Dad had mild dementia and…I don’t think any of us really believed. I listened to 774 radio all day and some horrific reports were being phoned in, but we had the best roof sprinklers money could buy, and fire-resistant shutters. I was sure we’d be fine. And we didn’t really believe. 

The next day, the reports started coming in and finally, we believed. That’s the background. Here is the poem that’s brought me to tears.

evidence to the commission of enquiry: all in the ark for a while

well

you have to go back

to the chaos of that time

back to february

 

as the day got on

we realised we were in strife

because the thing was bigger and hotter

and faster and more unpredictable

 

it was more everything really

 

and we’d started to get word of huge losses

in other places around and about

people

property

animals

whole towns

 

so we were head-down-and-bum-up

and worried

about what was going to happen next

 

anyway

out of the smoke came a sort of convoy

led by a horse whose halter was held

by a woman driving a ute

 

in the back of the ute

a dog was running around

like a mad thing

 

after that came another car

with a float and two more horses

 

next was a vehicle that a police fellow

was driving

 

he’d been up in a chopper

trying to winch people out

but the wind got too big

so he dropped down and helped

by driving the car

with whoever he could get into it

 

then there were a couple of deer

that jumped out of the bush

when the cavalcade went past a clearing

 

and a pair of koalas

 

and three kangaroos

 

and some lizards

 

all running as part of the convoy

 

they scattered pretty quick

when the procession of them

emerged from the smoke

and the flames

but it was all in together

for a while

 

It was ‘all in together’ for a while after Black Saturday too. We grieved, and donated food, and money, and hay because the animals were starving, and because we were alive and so many were not.

The love has disappeared now, but for a while we had it and I thank Frank Prem for helping me remember. Parts of this post will become my review on Amazon because this is my memory of the devil-wind.

 


Bushfires in Australia – 2013

I had a small epiphany today, and it was this : when fire runs out of fuel, it stops.

Seems so obvious doesn’t it? That simple fact is behind the theory and practice of firebreaks and containment lines;  take away the fuel in the path of a fire and it will [eventually] stop. Yet despite the obviousness of this fact, we continue to talk about bushfires as if they’re malevolent demons out to get us, while completely ignoring the part we play in our own destruction.

A man died yesterday. I am not saying he was in any way to blame for what happened to him, but his remains were found in the burnt out wreck of his car. I can only assume he was trying to out run the Gippsland bushfire.

The death of this one, unidentified man is a horrific reminder of the 173 who died in the bushfires of Black Saturday. After those fires we had a Royal Commission that recommended all sorts of sensible, practical measures to ensure nothing like that happens again. Coincidentally, we also had a number of years of above average rainfall. That has had consequences.

After eleven years of drought, the rains following Black Saturday were sorely needed, however they triggered a sort of collective amnesia we could have done without. The Bushfires Royal Commission handed down its report, the State Government changed hands, and we all pushed the fear of bushfires onto the back burner. After all, it was raining for godsake!

In the years since Black Saturday, the CFA sounded warnings about how lots of rain also meant lots of new growth, new growth that would dry off over summer and burn, but we largely ignored the warnings, and the fuel load built up.

Now here we are, back in the middle of an unusually dry, hot summer, with bushfires raging in almost every state, and the worst of the fire season still to come [in February].

I look around my own small corner of Victoria and all I see is neglect, and an almost wilful optimism that ‘we’ won’t be affected. Some home-owners have done the right thing, but far too many haven’t. I guess they’re the ones who’ll  leave in a panic and get caught in the bottle-neck of the bridge.

I understand panic, and when we had that fire at Kangaroo Ground recently, I sent the Daughter off without realising that half of Warrandyte would be trying to do the same thing. She was caught in that bottleneck. That won’t happen again, not to her, but I shudder to think how many Warrandyte residents will do the same thing the next time, and pay the price.

Bushfires are incredibly complex phenomena, and no one thing is ever to blame, but there are a few simple facts that we must acknowledge :

– fires need fuel,

– people who do not clear their blocks provide fuel for fires,

– people who do not clear their blocks endanger their own lives because leaving may not be possible, or it may be more dangerous than staying,

– people who do not clear their blocks put all our lives at risk because fires do not stop at the fenceline.

– and Local Councils who budget the barest minimum for fire-mitigation works – because they refuse to acknowledge the part fuel plays in a bushfire –  are culpable and should be tried in a Court of Law for wilful manslaughter.

Too harsh?  Not harsh enough. We can’t change our climate. We can’t change lightning strikes, and we certainly can’t lock up every fire-bug in the country, but we can change attitudes… if we try hard enough, and if there are legal and financial consequences for failure.

I love living in Warrandyte but there are no free lunches here. All that beauty has to be paid for in vigilance and maintenance. Burying your head in the sand won’t save the rest of your body when the fires visit us again. And they will you know, because Warrandyte is a fire-prone area and we’re living on luck, not good management.


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